Category Archives: Food & Wine

Sous vide salmon with Nathan Myhrvold

Surely, somewhere within the 2,000-odd pages, there must be simple, accessible techniques to make real food taste better — or at least easier to cook.

So I issued Mr. Myhrvold a challenge. Which of his modernist dishes could I whip up for a dinner party without having to buy any new equipment or bizarre ingredients (like low-acyl gellan and sodium tripolyphosphate, which are sprinkled throughout the book’s recipes like so much salt and pepper). Mr. Myhrvold would teach me the dishes, then I would recreate them for my guinea pigs — I mean, party guests.

They also make gin-infused celery, pan-seared, oven-baked steaks, and pressure-cooked squash.

Source and accompanying video.

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All about food.

Also from Byliner, a website that specializes in great reads that can be read in a single sitting. It is a website well worth checking out for those readers who wish to “discover, share, and discuss stories with a community of fellow readers, receive personalized recommendations, and follow their favorite writers — ensuring that they never miss a great read.” The site is new to me, but it looks to be a great place to explore.

“Cooking is like exercise or spending time in nature or good conversation,” Mark Bittman writes in his new Byliner Original, Cooking Solves Everything. “The more you do it, the more you like it, the better you get at it, and the more you recognize that its rewards are far greater than its efforts and that even its efforts are rewards. When you become even marginally good at cooking, you begin to enjoy the process. Even the shopping. Even, sometimes, the cleanup.”

Pleasure, of course, is one of the rewards of good food—and drink, for that matter. In 2010, novelist Jay McInerney traveled to Spain’s Costa Brava to savor one last dinner at El Bulli, Chef Ferran Adrià’s legendary restaurant that closed in July 2011. “I’d been afraid the meal would be too intellectual to be genuinely enjoyable,” McInerney wrote, “but in fact it was a hedonistic revel, a feast more than a mind game, Dionysus and Apollo wrestling on the plate, the senses ultimately triumphing over the brain.”

To complement a meal that extraordinary requires a fine wine, and no critic has done more to influence diners’ palates than Robert Parker. In “The Million-Dollar Nose,” The Atlantic’s William Langewiesche assessed the power of a Parker review. “The effects are felt on store shelves, where retailers display Parker’s comments or scores, and up the supply chain, influencing speculation, negotiation, and price-setting, until even the producers of mass wines feel the weight of Parker’s opinions. The trade has never known such a voice, such a power, before. When it comes to the great wines—those that drive styles and prices for the entire industry—there is hardly another critic now who counts.”

Not that the perfect meal has to be fancy—especially if Mom is doing the cooking. In “The Guiltless Pleasure,” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Rick Bragg extolled the wonders of his mother’s mashed potatoes. “Her potatoes were creamy, perfect, with real butter pooling in small lakes. Lumps were for tourists. Skins were for Philistines. These, cliché or not, melted on your tongue, with just a little extra, a lingering taste of … what? I could duplicate everything but that.”

And GQ’s James Beard award-winning food critic, Alan Richman, credits his mother’s cooking with inspiring his career. “Because I grew up eating only my mother’s cooking, I find it unsatisfying to work from recipe books, prepare food devised by people I’ve never met,” Richman recalled in “A Mother’s Knishes.” “I believe I love restaurants so much because I ate in so few of them as a child that they seem the greatest of luxuries. When my mother and father went out for dinner, which wasn’t often, they seldom took my sister and me with them. When they did, my mother never failed to reinforce her dessert credo, which I adhere to even today: ‘You can’t go wrong with ice cream.’”

All articles mentioned above are available at the link.

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For Christmas, have an award-winning Manhattan.

[F]ive bartenders entered a “shake off” this month at the Kentucky Derby Museum, to see who could work the most magic with bourbon, a singularly American spirit that has turned out to be a singularly American success story. The winner was Karla Ramsey, and here is her Manhattan recipe:

2 ounces Woodford Reserve Bourbon

1 ounce each of apple brandy and sweet vermouth

2 splashes bitters

1 red apple slice and 1 cinnamon stick, for garnish

Shake the liquid with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with the apple slice and the cinnamon stick. Light the cinnamon on fire!


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Carlsberg Stunt in Cinema

The producers of this beer commercial borrowed a small150 seat cinema playing a popular film, and filled 148 of its seats with rough-looking, tattooed bikers, leaving only two free seats in the middle of the theater. They then allowed theater management to sell tickets for the last pair of tickets to several young couples.

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Do Wine Scores Matter?

Dr Vino writes:

An item on Bloomberg yesterday detailed how Spaniards are drinking less wine, which has prompted Spanish wineries to pursue export markets more. From this perspective, it’s partially understandable why Spanish wineries might want to pay a fee to invite Wine Advocate critic Jay Miller to their regions. They want to crack into the US market and they figure the best way to do so is to get a score from the Wine Advocate (even if one document from the regional organization referred to the scores as “Parker points”).

But that sales strategy is sooo 1990s! In my view, many American wine consumers have moved beyond scores, and an increasing number of wine shops have too. What do you think: should the wine industry move beyond scores? Are scores less relevant today to consumers in your experience than they were five or ten years ago? It seems to me that today the trade clings to scores more readily than consumers do. But one importer I spoke with recently Jose Pastor, has said no to scores.

We also should say “no” to scores. We should actually say “hell no!” Wine scores, pioneered by Robert Parker and followed by Wine EnthusiastWine & Spirits, and others, try to make a science out of something that is not scientific. If you want to know why, read Robin Goldstein’s The Wine Trials. Goldstein offers many reasons, but let’s look at two of his arguments. First, the blind taste test.

Dom Pérignon, a $150 Champagne from France, and Domaine Ste. Michelle Cuvée Brut, a $12 sparkling wine from Washington State, are both made in the traditional Champagne method. Both wines are widely available at wine stores, liquor stores, and restaurants. Both are dry, with high acidity. The two bottles are more or less the same size and shape. So why are consumers willing to pay more than 12 times more for one than the other?

One would think because the Dom Pérignon – what other name is so well known and associated with the finest quality in the wine business to the average person? – is far superior in taste. One would be wrong. Goldstein conducted blind taste tests between these two wines with 62 different tasters: 41 of 62 tasters (66%) prefered Domaine Ste. Michelle. These were wine rookies, you say. True.

In October 2009, we replicated this experiment on a smaller scale with newer releases of the two sparkling wines. This time, we served them to a group of professional chefs, certified sommeliers, and food writers, of which more than 70% preferred the humble $12 bottle to the famous $150 one. This time, we also threw in Veuve Clicquot, a popular$40 Champagne from the same luxury products group – LVMH – that makes Dom Pérignon. More than 85% of tasters preferred the Domaine Ste. Michelle to the Veuve. This doesn’t seem to be a single, idiosyncratic instance in which people’s tastes happen to run contrary to popular wisdom or market prices. The Champagne battle described above was just a small part of a series of blind tastings that we conducted around the country over that same time span. It was an experiment in which we poured more than 6,000 glasses of wine from brown-bagged bottles that cost from $1.50 to $150.

The result? As a whole, the group actually preferred the cheaper wines to the more expensive wines – by a statistically significant margin.

Then the points correspond to quality? No. They correspond to price. In general, the more expensive the wine, the higher the price. And if a wine gets a high score – which is often correlated to the amount of money the winemaker pays for advertising in the ratings publication – the price will increase.

Goldstein again:

The central problem is that wine pricing is almost completely arbitrary – that the price of wine does not significantly correlate to the pleasure it brings, even to experts.

It’s that Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, and others with economic power in the industry are propping up the myth that price and pleasure do correlate strongly, that it really is possible that not one of 6,475 wines under $10 would score above 91. It’s that generations of consumers are now growing up taking that myth as fact, and drinking and buying wine in a way that conforms to the myth.

That’s right. Of the 6,475 wines that Wine Spectator had tasted as of the publication of Goldstein’s book, not one under $10 scored above 91 points. Surely one of them must have been a true gem. The tasters at Wine Spectator claim to score them blindly, but they don’t.

James Laube, one of Wine Spectator’s senior editors, has gone so far as to write a blog entry about the importance of blind tasting. “Wine Spectator has always believed in blind tastings,” Laube explains. “We know the region, the vintage and the grape variety, if relevant. But we don’t know the producer of the price.”

Consider that statement for a moment: the magazine critics are tasting blind, but they know the region, the vintage, and the grape variety. Let’s say it’s a red wine, the appellation is Hermitage, and the vintage is 2005. The cheapest possible wine in the Wine Spectator database that would fit those criteria costs $49. And, to their credit, these tasters certainly know enough about wine to know that Hermitage reds are going to be expensive. In that example, then, they would know the prices, or at least the price category, before tasting – which means that they wouldn’t really be tasting blind. They’d know that they were tasting expensive wines, and they’d have full frontal exposure to the placebo effect.

So testers, knowing a great deal about the wine to begin with, rate wines and assign scores. If a wine receives high scores, the winemaker will most likely spend more money advertising that wine and the corresponding score in the very magazine that bestowed the score after the “blind” test. Hogwash.

If you have a friend who is a wine lover – an oenophile, if you will – buy them The Wine Trials this Christmas. You’ll save them a lot of money and headaches from worrying about the myth fraud of wine scores.

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Pig Heaven!

There’s only so much turkey a man can take.
iReporter, writer and Smoke in Da Eye competition BBQ chronicler and team member Clint Cantwell found himself having to gobble down waaayyyy too much of the bird. After roasting, deep-frying and smoking three different turkeys for Thanksgiving last year, he needed a bit of a palate cleanser. Naturally, he swung swine-ward.
Cantwell crafted a pig entirely out of pork as a Thanksgiving appetizer. “Pork E. Pigskin,” as he was dubbed, had hot links for legs, a sausage body, ham ears, Vienna sausage nose, a pork rind tail and a bacon wrap.


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Catapoocini – the World’s Most Expensive Coffee

Coffee collected from the droppings of an Asian Palm Civet cat (creatures similar to weasels or mongooses in appearance but not actually related to felines) may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but some are willing to pay top dollar for the rare flavour, now available at hotels throughout Indonesia.

Civet cats love chowing down on the ripe, red cherries grown on coffee plants throughout the region, but they can’t digest the hard pit in the centre. That means the full seed comes out the other end, where farmers collect the remains, wash away excess debris and lightly roast the resulting beans.

The natural fermentation that occurs in the civet’s digestion system means the beans produce a more aromatic, less bitter brew.  This enhanced flavour profile paired with the scarcity of the beans makes Kopi Luwak (“civet coffee” in Indonesian) the world’s most expensive caffeine-jolt, fetching up to 1.5 million rupiah per kilogram.

As a bit of a coffee snob, I can say that no coffee is worth the 1.5 million rupiah per kilogram ($77 USD / lbs) unless it comes with a $60 gift certificate, or perhaps student loan forgiveness.

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For Bacon Lovers in DC

You have four days left.

While the general bacon/pork loving in DC is a well known and often told story but RESTAURANT 3’s Week Of Bacon (which kicks off next week, but I figured you could use use some fasting warning time to prepare for it) takes it to a whole new (and affordable at that) level of pig worship/gluttony.



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“You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Foie!”

LOS ANGELES — A line up of people streamed into an unmarked, dimly lighted storefront on Fairfax Avenue as night fell Friday, on a mash-up Los Angeles block catering to religious Jews and hungry hipsters. Before long, a smattering of protesters arrived.

Behind the glass doors, an act of culinary defiance was taking place.

In eight months, the sale of foie gras will be banned in California. But for seven hours on Friday night, at a restaurant appropriately known as Animal, three chefs presented an eight-course meal that was nothing short of a glorification of this soon-to-be outlawed delicacy. There was smoked foie gras, roasted foie gras, steamed foie gras and liquefied foie gras, injected into agnolotti. It was served with veal tongue, yogurt, prosciutto, mustard ice cream and truffles. There was even a foie gras dessert: a brownie sundae with foie gras Chantilly.

That’s one heck of a menu. It’s also a sign of PETA’s influence and the mindset of micromanaging legislator. John L. Burton jokes that he’ll sell Lipitor outside, unaware that fat is not what causes heart disease according to the latest scientific studies. He also makes a comparison to the start of prohibition – “Everyone was giving away the booze. Whatever makes them happy.” Mr. Burton seems unaware that prohibition was a failure, as was the foie gras ban in Chicago in 2006, which lasted barely two years. If this ban succeeds, health problems will persist, jobs will be lost, and freedom will be diminished, all because PETA believes the animals are mistreated. Regardless, the PETA lobby wins and Mr. Burton feels especially proud. That is ultimately what matters.

Will foie gras producers be eligible for state aid for jobs destroyed?

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Blending Wines

I had never heard of this idea before, but I think it is quite ingenious. Ray Isle writes:

Bright walked toward me from the bar carrying two beakers of red wine, a plastic graduated cylinder (a tall plastic tube marked in milliliter increments) and a wineglass. This—all of it—was the glass of wine I’d ordered.

When you order a glass of wine at Vinyl, you get a choice. You can pick from a list of about 34 bottles, the usual way. Or you can opt to design one of your own wine blends, using a combination of wines that Bright makes in Sonoma. On this day, the options were a Sangiovese and a Montepulciano, the two red varieties that are traditionally combined in the rustic wines of Italy’s Abruzzo region.

I took a sip of each. The Sangiovese was lightly tannic, with bright red-cherry notes and fairly zingy acidity. The Montepulciano was fleshier, a lot more tannic and overall more rough-and-tumble; sort of a workman’s wine. I poured 150 milliliters of Sangiovese into the beaker, added 50 milliliters of Montepulciano, swirled it around, and poured a sip or so into my glass. Not bad. Not great, but not bad. A little ragged around the edges. I added another 50 milliliters of Sangiovese and gave it another sip. Getting there, I thought. Definitely getting there.

I expect this to catch on. In the meantime I will try this in my kitchen.

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